My no. 1 tip: Write that sucky first draft
I don’t know any writer out there who claims to get their story down perfectly in the first draft. That rare, magical creature may exist somewhere – and if so, I hate them. OK, hate’s a strong word. I am very jealous of them.
This post is for all the authors out there who are paralyzed by the fear of not creating the perfect story, so they don’t write at all. You’re afraid your first draft won’t be any good? Let me lay your worries to rest: you’re right. If you’re like 99.9 percent of us, you will not write a great first draft. However, if you don’t write that first draft, you will have nothing to work with, and you will never progress to the second draft, final draft, etc. As you go back over and edit what you have written, THAT is when the magic happens.
I mean, do you eat the raw bread dough, or the raw hamburger, or do you eat the finished product? Do you sell the empty canvas, or the canvas with the sketches on it, or do you sell the finished painting? My point is, nothing starts out pretty and perfect. You shape it and refine it until it is what it needs to be.
To paraphrase Nora Roberts: “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix an empty page.”
If you’re worried about how terrible your first draft is going to be (and it will be), consider this – no one but you ever needs to see your first draft.
Here’s my process:
My first draft is mostly an expanded version of an outline.
When I go to write my first draft, I have already figured out the list of things which I described here:
Then, I figure out where I want to start the story, and I sit down and start writing.
In this first draft, I don’t put a lot of detail. I don’t put a lot of physical description, or emotion, or what the character thought or felt about something that just happened. I put in some, but I go back during the second draft and layer in a lot more of that information.
What I mainly do in the first draft is describe the action and dialogue. I just need to say what happened in this story, what the characters said and did.
To do that, I just think logically. Given the characters that I’ve created, and the “call to action” that they’ll be facing, how would things progress?
Let’s say it’s a Western romance and the heroine has been trying to save her ranch. Someone’s been vandalizing the ranch because they want her to sell. Her brother may or may not have burned down the home of the wealthy, connected people suspected of killing her father, the owner of the ranch; there’s a warrant out for his arrest. (By the way, the wealthy, connected people can’t be the major villains; it’s just too obvious. Whoever is the obvious suspect, can’t be guilty, at least not of the crime they’re suspected of.)
The hero is the sheriff. What’s a good way to get the sheriff and the heroine together right away, but show that there’s conflict? He can come out to her ranch and deliver some news. He’s heard that her brother is hiding out on the ranch, so he needs to search the ranch. She hears him riding up, she goes running out with a pitchfork, not knowing that it’s him.
What would come next?
He’s a decent guy – he should be concerned when she explains about the vandalism. He should offer to help protect her – he can keep an eye on the ranch, he can have his deputies patrol…
What would she do when he offers to help? She’s mad that he wants to search her property and arrest her brother, so she refuses.
What would he do? There’s no way he’s going to leave her in danger, so he’ll secretly stake out her ranch later on.
What would she do after he leaves? Continue her investigation into who killed her father.
How would the villain react to that? He’d try to kill her or frame her, or frame her brother.
After I write my first draft, I set it aside for a few days and then go back and polish it up and make it pretty, but the first draft is, like I said, nothing more than a fleshed-out outline.
So get out there, start plotting, and then write that terrible first draft!